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WARNING: This poem is fluff-and-angst with some intense topics, and the warnings are spoilers; highlight to see them. Victor and Igor both have crummy relationship history, which complicates their current situation. Challenges include class issues, gender identity and sexual orientation issues, serious misunderstandings, poor communication, rejection, emotional whump, fear of abandonment, running away from home, hypothermia and frostbite, primitive medical treatment, and embarrassing makeup conversations. But their community has a clue, and they work through the problems.
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The Feast of Saint Valentine
Victor and Igor went down to the village
and found it already decorated for
the Feast of Saint Valentine later that week.
Ribbons and streamers added color
to the drab winter landscape.
There were girls selling artificial flowers
and boys with trays of confections on offer.
They stopped and bought several mucenici,
love-donuts twisted into two loops
and glazed with honey for sweetness.
Adam was just learning how to pick things up
between thumb and forefinger,
and the sweets were easy for him to hold.
Katalin and Ilona skipped past them,
laughing and holding hands
around a bouquet of red tissue flowers.
Igor turned to watch them,
a startled look on his face.
"What is that all about?" he asked.
"Have you not heard?"
said Kálmán, the village priest.
"They are getting married on the Feast."
It was the one day of the year when,
in honor of the martyred Saint Valentinus,
the church would open its doors
to the sort of odd couples he had favored
by marrying them despite the laws against it.
Such weddings held no secular weight,
but gave families an opportunity to celebrate,
and some villages quietly recognized them anyway.
"Congratulations!" Victor called out,
waving to the young women,
who cheerfully waved back.
Then he stopped to pick up
a rose of ivory lace,
which he offered to Igor.
"Victor, no," Igor said gently.
"I'm your hired man, not your lover.
This isn't appropriate."
Victor's heart fell at this rebuff.
He tucked the lace flower into his pocket,
taking care not to crush it.
There was a conversation they needed to have
that sat between them like a brick,
which Victor had been avoiding for months now
because he had no idea how to broach the topic.
Victor had not meant to fall in love with Igor --
had only intended to hire a servant
to help him in the laboratory --
but love was like lady's bedstraw,
blooming wherever it pleased,
and now that they had a baby to consider,
employment was not the best basis for a relationship.
It was an unlikely kind of love
that made them a family,
but Victor didn't care about that.
He just wanted to find a way
of making it work.
So Victor bought supplies
without bothering Igor any further,
and the two of them went home
to their castle up the road.
They made supper and ate it,
watching Adam creep across the carpet
as he tried to learn how to crawl properly.
The next morning,
Victor mustered his courage
and picked up the brick.
"We need to rethink our relationship,"
he said to Igor over breakfast.
"I don't want to be your employer anymore,
I want --"
Igor's fork clattered onto his plate.
Without a word, he got up from the table
and walked out of the kitchen.
Victor scrambled after him.
"Igor, wait, it's not what you think,"
he said. "Stop and listen to me!"
Igor slammed the bedroom door in his face.
Victor slumped against it,
wracking his brain for ideas that
might clear up the misunderstanding.
He was so much better at repairing bodies
than repairing relationships, though,
as witness his lonely wreck of a life
before Igor had entered it.
Then the door opened again,
so abruptly that Victor almost fell.
Igor brushed past him.
"I'm going out," Igor said shortly.
"I need to get some air."
Again Victor tried to follow him,
babbling explanations and apologies,
only to have Igor shut the outside door on him too.
Adam began to cry.
Victor hurried to pick him up
and bounce him gently on one hip.
"Shush now, little one, he'll come back,"
Victor said to him.
But Igor didn't come back.
After an hour of that,
Adam had quit crying,
but Victor was beginning to worry.
By lunch, the gnawing fear turned frantic
and Victor decided to go after his partner
no matter how many doors Igor slammed.
Victor dressed himself and his son
for the weather and then went outside.
The day was clear and cold,
the air so sharp that it hurt his face.
Victor bundled Adam even more deeply
inside the woollen blanket
and hurried down to the village.
There Victor asked everyone he met
if they had seen Igor today.
In the general store, Katalin and Ilona
shook their heads at him.
The butcher and the baker
had not crossed paths with him either.
Kálmán tapped Victor on the shoulder and said,
"I can't break the seal of the confessional,
but I'm fair glad to see you searching for Igor."
Victor throttled down his panic
as best he could and walked faster,
combing the village for any sign of Igor.
Other people picked up on his distress
and began to spread the word.
"He's not with you?" Dorottya asked sharply.
"But I told him -- he said --"
"I haven't seen him since he left
this morning," Victor said.
"What did you tell him?"
"I told him to pull his head out of his arse
and go home!" she replied. "Oh, that idiot."
With a sudden sinking sensation,
Victor realized that Igor had not
interpreted "home" as the castle they shared.
"We need to find Igor," said Victor.
"I'm afraid that he may do something foolish.
I tried to talk with him over breakfast,
only it went all wrong -- this is all my fault --"
"Never mind that," Dorottya said.
"Give me the baby, he'll only slow you down.
You go put together a real search party."
Adam howled when Victor handed him over,
but it was such a relief to have
one less thing to worry about.
The search party actually turned into two
as Kálmán the priest and Imre the blacksmith
joined Victor in covering the village
while the farmers Bálint and Gyuri
followed Lóránt the woodcutter into the forest.
Victor trudged from house to shop
as his hands and feet slowly went numb,
but no amount of cold could dull
the sick ache in his heart.
He just wanted Igor back, even if
it meant giving up his nascent dream
and settling for a matter of employment.
Hours later, the forest search party
galloped back into the village
with Igor bundled inside everyone's cloaks
and unconscious from the cold.
"Bring him inside, quickly,"
Victor said, directing them to the brewery.
Dorottya handed Adam to her oldest daughter
and stripped down the family bed for Igor.
Victor peeled off Igor's clothes,
cold and stiff with snow.
Underneath, his body felt like clay.
Dénes the brewer did not hesitate
to strip down to his drawers
and climb into bed beside Igor.
Imre came in with a big bucket of bricks
that had been heating by his forge,
which he wrapped in thick towels and
arranged around the edges of the mattress.
Dorottya soaked more towels in hot water
for Victor to wrap around Igor's hands and feet
to warm up the frostbitten flesh.
She served hot spiced cider from a pot
to all the men who had been searching,
then bustled out of the room again.
"I think Igor will be all right,
once we get him warmed up,"
Victor said quietly.
The fingers and toes were only red,
not the black of dead flesh.
Dorottya came back with heated blankets
which she piled over the men in bed.
Then she took off her outer clothes
and climbed in beside her husband
wearing nothing but a chemise.
Their daughter Ágota brought Adam
to nestle into the growing pile.
The baby gave a plaintive bleat
and Dorottya tucked him against her breast,
which shushed him quite effectively.
"What are you waiting for?"
Dorottya said to Victor. "Get in here."
So Victor crawled into the bed
and curled himself behind
the cool wall of Igor's body.
The disagreement between them
left a deep, fierce ache in his chest
but Victor would not let that stop him
from doing his best to make Igor
healthy and safe again.
If Victor's hand settled over Igor's heart,
well, perhaps that was a bit selfish of him,
but he couldn't help touching what
he had feared he might never find again.
Slowly Igor's body began to warm,
aided by the dense body heat
and the hot cloths that Ágota refreshed
whenever they started to cool off.
In time, Igor began to stir under the blankets,
whimpering as his chilled skin came back to life.
Victor cuddled him a little closer
and murmured encouragement.
When Igor finally woke all the way,
Victor helped him sit up in bed.
Ágota brought more of the cider
and stirred in an extra helping of honey.
"Let me hold the cup," Victor advised.
Igor looked down at his bundled hands
and gave a silent nod of agreement.
The sugar and the warming spices
helped to revive him further.
Only after Victor set the empty cup aside
did Igor venture to speak.
"Why am I here," he said in a low tone.
"More importantly, why are you here."
"You're here because you went for a walk
in the freezing woods and almost died,"
Victor said. "I'm here because I worried
when you left home and didn't come back,
and then, oh yes, the men who found you
lying unconscious in the road thought that
it might be prudent to get you to a doctor
so you wouldn't die of hypothermia."
"Of course I left, you sacked me,"
Igor said, his voice sharpening.
On the far side of the bed,
Dorottya and Dénes slipped out.
She turned back to hand Adam to Victor.
"I'm not coming back to get your son
if you make him cry," she warned them.
Then she shooed her family out of the room
and closed the door quietly behind.
"I'm sorry that I gave you that impression,"
Victor said. "It's not what I meant at all,
but sometimes I'm terrible with words.
I know we started out as master and servant,
but I don't think that's what we are
to each other anymore, and sometimes
the shear just makes me uncomfortable.
I want us to be equals, Igor.
I'd like to renegotiate, if you don't mind."
"Victor, I'm no shirt-lifter, and neither are you,"
Igor said with a sigh. "There's no future in that.
I was perfectly content as your servant.
I didn't want to risk what we had
by trying to change it around."
"It was working for you," Victor said.
"If it -- if that's all we can have,
if it's what you truly need,
then I'd rather keep you as my servant
than lose you altogether.
But it's not what I want. Anymore."
"Then what do you want?"
Igor asked, fidgeting.
"I don't want your body. I don't want your service.
I just want your love," Victor pleaded.
"Can't we be a family instead of this -- this --"
He waved a hand between them. "-- this mess?"
"Love shouldn't hurt, Victor," said Igor.
"I've had this pain in my chest
ever since you spoke up this morning."
"Is it the love that hurts,
or the misunderstanding?"
Victor asked quietly, reaching out
to stroke Igor's shoulder.
"I don't know," Igor admitted.
"How do we even learn
what love is between us?
It's there, yes, has been for months --
but it's not shaped like anything
I've ever heard before."
"Then maybe we should
be looking at what we have,
instead of other examples," Victor said.
"Our love isn't about our bodies.
It's about working in the laboratory
and patching up injured villagers.
It's about putting up with
each other's imperfections,
and raising a baby together."
"Walking away from Adam tore me up,"
Igor admitted. "I almost couldn't do it."
"So don't," Victor said. "Please stay.
He loves you. You love him. I love you both.
We're scientists; we can figure something out."
"All right," Igor whispered,
leaning against him,
and Victor began to believe
that maybe it would be.
Victor looked over Igor's hands and feet
and declared them ready for bandages.
Blisters were bubbling up,
but they were relatively small ones,
and only the little-toe nails
looked likely to fall off.
Victor packed the fingers and toes
with once-washed wool to keep them separate
and soothe the damaged skin with lanolin,
then wrapped everything in layers of clean cloth.
Imre drove them home in his wagon,
with Igor bundled in blankets
and more hot bricks to keep him warm.
Lóránt unloaded a fresh cord of firewood
to heat their castle as well.
Victor put Igor to bed and forbade him
from using his hands or feet for two days
to give them time to start healing.
While Igor recovered from his ordeal,
they talked. It was awkward.
It was also better than the alternatives.
So they limped their way through discussions
of equality and obedience and compromise,
followed by their respective finances
and the running of the household.
In the end they agreed to stay together,
although in terms of sharing their practice
Igor insisted that Victor remain the senior partner
because of the two of them, he was the one
with more experience and university schooling.
Victor decided that he could live with that.
Igor's injuries from the frostbite
proved unpleasant rather than truly serious.
Both of his little-toe nails sloughed away,
but Victor expected those to grow back.
He slathered the peeling skin with salve
and reminded Igor to take extra care outside.
When the Feast of Saint Valentine arrived,
they all went down to the village again
to celebrate the marriage of Katalin and Ilona.
The young women looked lovely
in their new cutwork blouses and flowing skirts.
Victor carried Adam in a river-blue blanket,
and Igor wore a rose of ivory lace
stuck through the buttonhole of his black vest.
It was Ágota who caught the paper bouquet,
but only after it bounced off Igor's face.
Victor just chuckled.
That was life, after all.
It wasn't always perfect,
or quite what you expected,
but so long as you had some love in it,
nothing else really mattered.
* * *
The Feast of Saint Valentine has many associated legends. For the purpose of this setting, it is established that Valentinus of Rome was martyred for performing forbidden weddings, including for soldiers and for same-sex couples. The holiday is now associated with romantic love, but also with less common types of love that rarely get social support. It is celebrated with flowers, sweets, fripperies, and festivities; and the Church will perform nonstandard weddings on this one day of the year.
Mucenici are donuts shaped like a figure-8, a traditional part of Romanian cuisine. Enjoy a recipe. Traditionally these are served on March 9 for the 40 Saints. In this setting, people make them for the Feast of Saint Valentine, with the two loops symbolizing the union of two lives. These donuts are covered just with the honey glaze instead of having nuts on the top. Frankly I think that's to engineer situations in which people need "help" getting the honey off themselves.
Adam is 8 months old in this poem. Typical attributes for babies of this age include creeping or crawling, separation anxiety, pinching things between thumb and forefingers, and exploring.
Christianity has a long, complex history with same-sex marriage and homosexuality. The Church used to perform same-sex marriages. What we see in this setting is a vestige of that.
White flowers and white roses symbolize purity, reverence, and platonic love. Ivory rather than snow-white can suggest loyalty or commitment, something that endures.
Transylvanian wildflowers offer a beautiful hiking experience, like this picture of lady's bedstraw. The herb lady's bedstraw has legendary associations with the Virgin Mary and various goddesses, along with use as a strewing or linen herb, and other applications. It has connotations of healing and comfort, but also a certain brusqueness as it sometimes behaves as a weed. It's a traditional decoration in some Romanian festivals.
Many people have relationship problems, and some folks have a long history of bad relationships, like Victor and Igor. Communication pitfalls are common. It helps to analyze communication in relationships. Understand the steps of intimate communication and how to improve your relationships.
Clear cold weather can be a greater winter hazard than storms, seen in such forms as an anticyclone or a polar vortex. It helps if you know how to dress for deep cold, but even then, you can only stay warm for so long while outside in the weather.
Frostbite and hypothermia are two main risks of cold weather. It is necessary to warm a victim slowly and carefully, then protect damaged body parts from further harm. Body heat from other people is an effective backwoods method if advanced care is unavailable (which is often the case in wilderness emergencies).
Hot spiced cider is good for people who have been out in the cold. Traditional warming spices boost the metabolism and immune system.
Difficult conversations are part of every relationship. Victor screwed up by delaying the discussion and then opening it clumsily; Igor made matters worse by leaping to the worse possible conclusion. In their defense, they've had lousy past experience with relationships, and no idea how to do things better. There are ways to make serious discussions easier.
Renegotiating relationships is a natural part of interaction, because people and situations can change over time. There are tips on how to renegotiate the terms of your relationship.
Igor is right in thinking that love shouldn't hurt. If it does, the relationship may be abusive. A healthy relationship has more positive feelings and actions.
Victor is right in observing how miscommunication can hurt a relationship. There are tips for making up after miscommunication and avoiding it in the future.
Lanolin, produced by sheep, is soothing to the skin. Wool may be lightly washed to remove dirt while preserving most of the natural oil, and used to protect irritated skin -- at least for people without a wool allergy.